Mother tongue

How our sport­ing lan­guage en­riches, sup­ports and pro­tects us.

Shooting Gazette - - Talking Heads - By Mar­tin Pud­difer.

It’s hard not to feel a sense of pride when talk­ing the lan­guage of game shoot­ing. Brace, fore-end, eye-wipe, dog­ging-in, pegs, beat­ers and drives, our sport is burst­ing with words and phrases we learn, trea­sure and proudly hand down to those who fol­low in our foot­steps. There are some words and phrases we’d rarely use in ev­ery­day life, ones where eye­brows would be raised if we used them in po­lite com­pany and even ones that have been adopted by the out­side world to be used as metaphors in ev­ery­thing from busi­ness to film. We all know them when we hear them, don’t we?

Ear­lier this year I was hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with one of our long-stand­ing con­trib­u­tors about how to tell Guns — namely the hu­man va­ri­ety — and shot­guns apart in our ar­ti­cles. How was it, the con­trib­u­tor rightly ar­gued, that read­ers are sup­posed to know who and what we’re talk­ing about when we men­tion a gun who had stuck to their guns when one of the other guns had passed a sar­cas­tic com­ment about an­other gun’s guns? In speech it makes per­fect sense but down on pa­per, well, he had a point and fin­gers crossed I haven’t con­fused you fur­ther. We al­tered our style sheet soon af­ter.

In game shoot­ing, as in life, lan­guages change, whether we want them to or not. To ex­pand on the Gun ver­sus gun ex­am­ple, ev­ery mag­a­zine or news­pa­per has a house style, and even though ours hasn’t changed a great deal over the years there are nev­er­the­less words we pre­fer not to use when talk­ing about game shoot­ing, even those not nec­es­sar­ily re­lated to the sport. It’s not be­cause there’s any­thing wrong with them, it’s just that there’s a dan­ger of us­ing them too much or not quite in the right way, thus los­ing their orig­i­nal mean­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally risk­ing cheap­en­ing the sport it­self.

That said, this is where the magic of our sport­ing lan­guage comes alive be­cause this is where words and phrases mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions. De­bate cer­tainly gets go­ing when one talks about high birds: a high bird for some Guns is one they know they can’t hit; oth­ers see them as a means to chal­lenge their shoot­ing abil­i­ties, with the ut­most re­spect to the quarry of course. What­ever the dis­tance or even the speed, does it help when they are re­ferred to as scream­ers, cloud tick­lers or Ex­o­cet mis­siles, given they are noth­ing of the kind?

If I may be so bold as to tread on thin­ner ice, what to you marks some­one out a “true coun­try­man”? Does that per­son have to have been born and raised in the coun­try­side or sim­ply have the coun­try­side’s best in­ter­ests at heart, even if he can­not name ev­ery tree he sees be­fore him on a shoot? With so many new­com­ers en­ter­ing the sport from a non-tra­di­tional route, must the term “true coun­try­man” change with it? Surely your ur­ban-based sports­man who has come into shoot­ing later in life is just as wor­thy of the ti­tle if their val­ues tally with the finest am­bas­sadors of our sport who have only ever breathed coun­try air. As a sport, if we are to con­tinue to thrive we can­not be too pre­cious about how we de­fine our­selves. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Our lan­guage can also help us to chal­lenge those who are against us or those who have been in­flu­enced by mis­in­for­ma­tion. Many is the tale I’ve been told at elevenses about an op­po­nent of our sport be­ing stopped in their tracks be­cause they’ve used the wrong phrase/ con­text of sport­ing ter­mi­nol­ogy, and it has been pointed out to them that, if they are guilty of ig­no­rance of sport­ing ter­mi­nol­ogy, what other holes might there be in their ar­gu­ment? There’s a say­ing that ‘those who know, know’ and as long as you know your game shoot­ing lan­guage is there to help, en­rich and pro­tect you, then you won’t go far wrong.

Our sport is burst­ing with words and phrases we learn, trea­sure and proudly hand down to those who fol­low.

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